Saturday, July 9, 2016

No Recipe Cooking - Pepper Steak

A few nights ago I was struggling to come up with an idea for dinner. My checkbook laughed at me when I considered take out and the fridge was looking a little pathetic. As I stood there with the door wide open, basically refrigerating the rest of the kitchen, I thought surely I can come up with something, right? I had a few different salad veggies, although no lettuce or spinach, a small piece of sirloin steak, some seasonings and sauces, and a pantry full of staples. Now I could have just cooked the steak, thrown a potato in the micro and called it a day, but I was hoping for something a little better, and a way to stretch that piece of steak into a meal for two.

Standing in the kitchen, feeling completely uninspired, my mind wandered off into memories, laughing to myself at some of the dishes my mom used to make. We have talked about Erika before. Don't get me wrong, my mom made some really incredible dinners. She made that chicken paprika, as she called it, that is one of the best things I have ever eaten. Her lentil soup and potato pancakes were always a family favorite, and still are when my family begs me to make it. Pot roast was perfection in our house growing up. Mom's gravy was awesome, and the roasted potatoes would get beefy and browned in a way I have been able to replicate in my own kitchen. She surely had her secrets.

And then........she had some things that were total bombs. Dad prided himself on his yearly garden and would pick whatever fresh vegetable of the day for Mom to make for dinner. Mom cooked vegetables to death. Fresh green beans no longer resembled fresh green beans, they were more like canned beans. Same with broccoli. Gone was the bright green and slight crunch and in it's place, a bowl of dull, brown, limp looking florets that even cheese sauce couldn't salvage. It was during these memories that I finally got an idea- with 4 or 5 bell peppers in the drawer, why not make pepper steak! I always have Asian style spices and sauces around, and a big container of rice to cook- yes, pepper steak it is. What does this have to do with my mom? Guys.......her pepper steak, though delicious, was one of those dishes that would end up being stripped of all texture and color and end up looking like something I cannot even describe.

Moms favorite cut of meat was round steak. The big whole slab of round steak with the little round bone in the middle. She would pull out the built in sliding cutting board and slap that big slab on there and cut it into strips. Mom had a special pan just for making her pepper steak, a big black enameled metal roaster and she would heat that thing until it was screeching hot and then add some oil and brown that steak. If you have ever coked anything with round steak you know this is not a tender cut of meat. So mom browned it, then added a bunch of water and beef bouillon cubes (she looooved those bouillon cubes) and some soy sauce. That's it. Simple. Then she would slice up a couple onions and several green bell peppers and add them to the pot. Cover goes on, and that pot would simmer for along long long time. Long enough to make that steak tender as can be, but also cooked those peppers and onions until they were very very very soft and faded. Like me, Mom always made rice to go with it, and it was one of our favorite dinners, in spite of the soft peppers. 

Years later my mom would discover the wonders of an electric wok and her pepper steak cooking would be revolutionized. No more cooking in the roaster, she would, as she would say in her terrible English, "steer fry" the steak and vegetables before popping on the lid and going through the same long simmer in that bright red electric appliance. Good times folks, good times. I'd give anything to have that pepper steak just one more time.

Fast forward to today, and me standing in the kitchen. I grab my little sirloin and season liberally with steak seasoning- I keep it in a small crock right on the stove top because I use it for literally everything. Slice it up and throw it in a bowl. Add a few cloves chopped garlic, several good splashes of soy sauce, a couple tablespoons of oyster sauce, and a dash of red pepper flakes for just a hint of heat.

Next I cut a great big sweet Vidalia onion into thin wedges and tossed that in the bowl as well, One red bell pepper, one green bell pepper and half of an orange bell pepper that was leftover from a salad went next, sliced into strips. Instead of a roasting pan or fancy electric wok, I grabbed my handy IKEA Skanka pan, basically a handled wok, and preheated over high heat. Once the pan was very hot I swirled a couple tablespoons of oil in the pan and added the steak strips and vegetables. Cook over very high heat, tossing and stirring until the meat is cooked an the veggies are still crisp tender. Don't cover, don't simmer and don't cook the vegetables to death.

Serve over hot cooked rice with additional soy sauce for a quick No Recipe Needed dinner.

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